No one really knows
when,why and how South Shields began , but the first 1000 years seemed to have
been stormy ones . There is evidence of Stone Age inhabitants having been in
the town around 400BC and in 1949 a man digging his garden found a skeleton
which was dated at 2,000 BC . The earliest recorded inhabitants were a Celtic
race known as the Brigantes , who named the town Caer Urfa ~ thought to have
meant "town on the rock" .
In AD80 the Roman South Shields was
founded by Agricola , who built a Fort on the Lawe Top . It acted as a supply
base for Hadrians Wall . The Romans remained until the 5th century and during
that time South Shields became a major Military strong point and commercial
centre . The 1st record of the Saxons arrival is AD364 and they joined with the
Picts and the Celts in harassing the Romans .
In 789 the Norsemen arrived and there are
records of their ships being wrecked on Herd Sands . In 875 the Norseman leader
Halfdene stationed his forces in South Shields and his men killed many of the
inhabitants . A year later they were routed by King Alfred but undaunted , they
returned in 883 and were overthrown again . The church began to be more
influential and in 1245 the town was named South Shields by the Prior and
Convent of Durham .
Shipping has always been one of the towns
major industries and by 1500 it had become an important seaport and there was a
good trade in timber , lead and salt . The trade had started with the Celtic
Brigantes trading with the Phoenicians and was continued by the Saxon King
Egrith , who used the region near Tyne Dock as an anchorage for his fleet of
ships .It was now big business . It was not long before shipbuilding began and
a shipyard was established in about 1720 by Robert Wallis . He was soon
followed by others , the most famous was Thomas Marshall who built the first
Iron ship "Conside" in 1847 .
The first mention of the coal trade was
in 1325 . In the 1620's piracy was rife and the colliers sailed in convoy's or
were protected by armed ships . There were lots of Press Gangs in South Shields
during the 18th century , and many local sailors were pressed into service with
the British Navy . In the first half of the 19th century industries such as
rope and salt making , anchor and chain cable forging , and block and mast
making began to flourish . The only time the Port was closed was during the
Civil War and this lasted from January 1642 until October 1644 .
The North Shields & South Shields
Ferry Company was formed in 1829 . There had been a Ferry service before that
and on the outbreak of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715 , Lord Scarborough ,
commanding the Royal troops , saved the ferries and took them away for three
days to prevent the rebels getting them .
In 1837 its well known Marine Collage was
founded by Dr Thomas Winterbottom . Today it attracts seafaring students from
all over the world , it is a leader in its class .
Even more important at the time was the
invention of the first lifeboat "Original" by Willie Woodhave in 1790 . It
followed the wreck of the "Adventure" in September 1789 when the whole crew
were drowned . A prize was offered for the best lifeboat design and Woodhave ,
the parish clerk at St Hilda,s Church designed the boat . It was built by Henry
Greathead under the guidance of Nicholas Fairles ~ it cost £91 (FF. 900 ~
$150 ) . It was launched on the 30 January 1790 and served for 40 years but in
1830 she was driven onto some rocks and split in two , with the loss of two
lives . In 1826 there was a further innovation with the invention by James
Mather , of the first ships lifeboat .
Coal mining dates back to Roman times but
it was not until 1810 that the first pit was opened at Templetown by Mr Simon
Temple .At one time there were many pits but now they are all gone . The first
mention of the Salt industry came in 1489 when manufacturing was started by the
evaporation of sea water . It became a major industry with as many as 200 salt
pans working mainly near Holborn . When all pans were working , visitors
described it as like Dantes Inferno ~ smoke and flames everywhere . During the
Civil war many salt pans were destroyed . At the start of the Civil war Charles
1 sent 300 troopers to the town and for sometime it was the only port
controlled by the Royalist's . In 1644 the "Roundheads" recaptured it .
The first glassworks was established in
1650 by Isaac Cookson , more followed so that by 1827 there were eight
Quarrying , which started at Marsden in
Roman times , continued and led to the Marine Grotto being built at Marsden Bay
. It was first built into the cliff's in 1782 by Jack the Blaster , a miner who
not find a home for his family . He started living in the caves but later
extended them and started supplying visitors with drinks . About 30 years later
it was taken over by Peter the Hermit and he converted it into a 15 roomed
house . He developed it into a cavern tavern and was the haunt of smugglers .
He died in 1851 and from then onwards it has been developed and added to so
that it is today a unique rock hewn hostelry .
The foundation stones for the North and
South piers were laid on the 15th June 1854 and a railway was constructed to
carry the stones to the South pier . It was not until 1895 that they were
completed .For those interested in statistics , the North pier is 2,959 ft long
( 888 m)and the South 5170 ft ( 1553 m ) .The Groyne pier was built in 1882 and
Tyne Dock was opened in 1859 and could hold 500 vessels .
By 1865 the Tyne was very safety
conscious as there were 5 lifeboats operating near the river mouth , and in
1866 a volunteer Life Brigade was set up .One of the main problems of living in
a seaport is disease being brought in by arriving ships and in 1866 there was
an outbreak of Cholera and in 1870 Smallpox hit the town .
Starting in 1901 , the town was enlarged
by acquiring 360 acres at West Harton and by 1950 its was 5,180 acres .
Although South Shields was bombed by
Zeppelins during World War 1, it was during World War 2 that the worst damaged
was caused . The 1st bomb was dropped on 21 June 1940 and the last on 24 May
1943 . The worst raid was on 2 October 1941 which left the Market Square
derelict after 1 1/4 hours of continuos indiscriminate bombing . In total
during the War period 156 were killed .
Today the town has developed into an
outstanding small seaside resort , which attracts many visitors ~ long may it
continue to do so despite the attitude of the Council to the firmament of the
Town and its history.